Let's visit Hythe and New Romney
PUBLISHED: 16:46 03 June 2016 | UPDATED: 16:46 03 June 2016
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10 good reasons to visit this wild and extraordinary part of Kent
1 Unique landscape
The Romney Marsh is still referred to as ‘the fifth continent’ thanks to author and cleric Reverend Richard Barham, who wrote under the pen name Thomas Ingoldsby, and it’s easy to see why. With a landscape quite unlike any other in Kent, this place is a treat for the senses.
Known for its wild natural beauty, the diversity of its habitats, its unspoiled coastline and its rich heritage, it is well is worth discovering for yourself. Dungeness, on the headland on the southern tip of Romney Marsh, is a windswept, shingle desert beloved by photographers and artists who flock here for its unique scenery.
2 Food and drink
The region produces such sought-after meat that we export it in great quantities to France each year. Agneau de pré-salé or salt meadow lamb is a delicacy, its flavour intensified by the salty grasses and samphire that the animals eat on the marshland. It comes into season in June and July and is available all summer.
Being so close to the coast means this area is just as well-known for its seafood. There are plenty of great restaurants and gastro pubs to try, among them are Saltwood on the Green in Hythe (01303 237800), Hythe Bay Seafood (01303 233844), the Crown Inn in Stone-in-Oxney (01233 758302), The Hythe Brasserie (01303 267912) and Aboyne House in New Romney (01797 367113). To stay, try Hythe Imperial, www.hytheimperial.co.uk.
3 Heritage railway
Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (www.rhdr.org.uk) is one of the area’s biggest tourist attractions, with thousands of visitors each year. Operating the most complete collection of one-third full-sized steam locomotives in the world, the railway has more than 13 miles of track stretching across the Romney Marsh, from Hythe to Dungeness, with six stations where you can hop off and explore the local villages and beaches. Stop off at Dungeness to visit the Old Lighthouse, and at the New Romney station to see the model railway and 1940’s exhibition.
4 Overnight safari
Port Lympne (www.aspinallfoundation.org) is a wild animal reserve with a large safari area and an emphasis on conservation and captive breeding. Set high on a hill overlooking the marsh and beyond to the sea, it is now also now an overnight destination with a good range of on-site accommodation. Earlier this year it won gold at the National Tourism Awards in the tourism experience of the year category for its Livingstone Lodge overnight safari package - which allows guests to sleep in large safari tents by a watering hole where African animals including zebra and giraffe stop for a cool drink. See also feature on Port Lympne on page 36.
5 Church bones
It may not be to everybody’s taste but visitors to St Leonard’s Church in Hythe are more often than not there to see the contents of its creepy crypt.
One of only two ossuaries or ‘bone houses’ in the country, it is home to Britain’s largest and best preserved collection of ancient human bones and skulls.
There are thought to be the bones of up to 2,000 individuals – all dating from between the 13th and the 15th centuries. It’s somewhat macabre, but visitors flock to larger, more famous ossuaries in Paris, Rome and the Czech Republic.
For visiting times, www.stleonardschurchhythekent.org.
6 Local art
This very special landscape has long inspired artists, photographers and writers. Famous artists to have lived and worked here include impressionist Harold Gilman, surrealist landscape painter Paul Nash and film-maker and artist Derek Jarman, who famously owned Prospect Cottage on Dungeness and created a truly wonderful shingle garden there.
Galleries to visit include Dungeness Open Studios (www.paintings-for-sale.net), Dungeness Gallery (www.dungenessgallery.co.uk) and New Romney Art Shack (www.theromneymarsh.net/artshack), which is part of the excellent Romney Marsh Visitor Centre.
7 Wartime collection
Set on an old airstrip in Brenzett, the Romney Marsh Wartime Collection is a unique museum featuring wartime equipment and aircraft remains recovered from local crash sites. You can’t miss it, thanks to the Barnes Wallis Dambuster bomb and full size Vampire Jet Trainer on display in the grounds.
Inside, exhibits embrace many aspects of the war years, with a bomb-disposal equipment display, uniform displays and personal artefacts owned by both British and German airmen. There’s also the chance to learn about the legendary ‘Land Girls’ as the buildings themselves were a hostel for the Women’s Land Army during the war. Visit www.brenzettaero.co.uk for details.
8 Perfect park
Originally part of a large estate dating back to the Norman era, Brockhill Country Park is dominated by a large grassy valley, bisected by the Brockhill Stream which makes its way to the Royal Military Canal.
For walkers, there are two signposted trails around the park: a lake trail taking up to 30 minutes and a more scenic valley walk which takes about 45 minutes. With a central lake, open meadows, a picnic area, play area and the excellent Brockhill Café serving refreshments, it has everything families will need to enjoy a day out in the park this summer.
9 Famous canal
It’s one of the best-known canals in the country and stretches 28 miles from Seabrook near Folkestone to Cliff End near Hastings. The Royal Military Canal is a vast, man-made ditch begun in 1804. At its peak 1,500 people worked on the excavations, each digging with picks and carrying away the soil in wheelbarrows. Completed in 1809, it cut right across Romney Marsh and effectively turned it into an island. It now provides a peaceful area for walking, cycling and fishing and has become a haven for wildlife.
10 wild at heart
One of the best places to learn about the local flora and fauna is the Romney Marsh Visitor Centre, run by Kent Wildlife Trust. It has displays about the area’s natural history, an 11-hectare nature reserve, trails to follow and animals, birds and insects to look out for. At the National Nature Reserve at Dungeness, which encompasses an RSPB reserve, you can see migratory birds including the common tern in summer, from March to October. w